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Hillary's incendiary rhetoric about Putin

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Hillary Rodham ClintonGoogle Images

Speaking at a fundraiser in the Los Angeles area about the Ukraine crisis, former Secretary of State and possible 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton called Russia’s military action in Crimea similar to the Nazi actions in the 1930s. Responding to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s excuses for paramilitary forces seizing Crimea, Clinton compared Russia’s actions to Nazi Germany. Losing about 20 million comrades in WW II defeating the Nazis, Hillary’s Hitler comparison doesn’t help an already tense situation. U.S., NATO and European Union diplomats are working feverishly in Paris to defuse the crisis and reestablish Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Comparing Putin’s actions to Hitler’s in the 1930s throws gasoline on an already delicate situation. Hillary’s comments showed her hawkish side, sometimes mirroring conservatives on Capitol Hill.

Whatever parallels seem valid with Putin, comparing him to Hitler could not have been more offensive. “Now if this sounds familiar, it’s what Hitler did back in the 30s,” said Hillary, referring to justifying border incursions to protect German citizens. During the 1930s, Hitler’s Third Reich used Nazi storm troopers, known as the SS, to subject neighboring countries to Nazi occupation. While Hitler’s aim was European hegemony, Putin’s move in Crimea was aimed at protecting his military installation after a Feb. 22 coup that drove Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovich from power. When you consider Russia’s long historic relationship to the Ukraine and more specifically Crimea, comparing him to Hitler was especially offensive. Whether or not there’s any logic behind Hillary’s remarks, they don’t help President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry defuse the crisis.

Speaking to reporters at the Kremlin, Putin denied that the Russian-speaking forces dressed in unmarked camouflage fatigues overtaking Ukrainian military installation in Crimea were anything but local self-defense forces. Even Russian media had trouble believing that the unmarked troops weren’t ordered by the Kremlin to take over Crimea. Putin shot back at his American “partners’ for a history of invading foreign countries, like Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, to advance U.S. foreign policy. “All the Germans that were . . . the ethnic Germans, the Germans by ancestry who were in places like Czechoslovakia and Romania and other places, Hitler kept saying they’re not be treated right. I must go and protect my people and that what’s gotten everybody so nervous,” Hillary told supporters. Whether she’s right of not, the Hitler comparison doesn’t advance U.S. diplomacy.

Without excusing Putin’s motives, he watched Yanukovich go down to what looked like a U.S.-EU-backed coup. Given geopolitical uncertainties, especially gas pipelines running through Ukraine and elsewhere to Europe, Putin sees the revolution challenging Russia’s shaky monopoly. What prompted Yanukovich Dec. 2 to cut a deal on Ukrainian debt with Moscow involved massive indebtedness to Russia’s Gasprom oil monopoly. Yanukovich didn’t get the $15 billion deal offered by Putin to discount future energy purchases and retire Ukrainian debt. Arriving in Kiev with a $1 billion check, Kerry reassured Ukraine’s new post-revolutionary government that more help was on its way. EU officials working with the International Monetary Fund are preparing a $15 billion bailout that should help Ukraine survive without Russian help, something also irking Putin.

Whatever the U.S. or EU does to return Ukraine to fiscal solvency, its new leaders seek recognition from the West. Protesters led by former heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko, who hopes to run in May for Ukraine’s first post-revolutionary president, rejected Yanukovich’s ties to Moscow, eventually evicting him from office Feb. 22. While denying military actions in Crimea, Western powers meeting in Paris want Putin’s Russian-speaking self-defense forces out of Crimea. “When he looks at Ukraine, he sees a place that he believes is by its very nature part of Mother Russia,” Hillary told her SoCal audience. Obama, too, didn’t mince words with Putin, telling him his interpretation of recent events were dead wrong. “His mission is to restore Russian greatness,” said Hillary, speculating what drives Putin in a post-revolutionary Ukraine to hang onto Crimea.

Obama, Kerry and Hillary’s disparaging public remarks about Putin only invite the former KBG agent to stiffen his position. If U.S. officials would show more diplomacy, giving the Russian nationalist more time to digest his latest moves in Crimea, the crisis would be closer to resolution. Putin know that seizing Ukraine won’t fly with his so-called U.S. and EU “partners,” only isolating Russia from partaking in the global economy. Reassuring Putin about the safety of Russian interests in Crimea, especially his Black Sea navy base, would go a long way in getting the 61-year-old Russian president to return to his senses. Watching what looks like a CIA-sponsored coup in Kiev triggered Putin’s defensive reaction. More reassurances—and less incendiary rhetoric—would go a long way in resolving the current stalemate, stabilizing financial markets around the globe.

About the Author

John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.